The codices turned up five years ago in a remote cave in eastern Jordan—a region where early Christian believers may have fled after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. The codices are made up of wirebound individual pages, each roughly the size of a credit card. Some of the codices were sealed, prompting yet more breathless speculation that they could include the sealed book, shown only to the Messiah, mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Initial metallurgical research indicates that the codices are about 2,000 years old--based on the manner of corrosion they have undergone, which, as Macrae writes, "experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially."
Beyond the initial dating tests, however, little is confirmed about the codices or what they contain. And the saga of their discovery has already touched off a battle over ownership rights between Israel and Jordan. As the BBC's Pigott recounts, the cache surfaced when a Jordanian Bedouin saw a menorah—the Jewish religious candleabra—exposed in the wake of a flash flood.
The Jordanian government has pledged to "exert all efforts at every level" to get the potentially priceless relics returned, Pigott reports.
Meanwhile, biblical scholars who have examined the codices point to significant textual evidence suggesting their early Christian origin. Philip Davies, emeritus professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, told Pigott he was "dumbstruck" at the sight of plates representing a picture map of ancient Jerusalem. David Elkington, an ancient religion scholar who heads the British research team investigating the find, has likewise pronounced this nothing less than "the major discovery of Christian history." New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado observes that since these codices are miniature, they were likely intended for private, rather than liturgical, use. This would likely place their date of origin closer to the 3rd century CE.